Measurement: How do we measure the properties of matter?

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Matter is the stuff of which things are made. The properties of matter that we measure are distance, mass, volume, and temperature.

After learning about each unit of measurement, we estimated (made a good guess) what the measurement would be, before actually measuring. Estimating is useful whenever we do not have a meter tape, a thermometer, a balance/scale, or a graduated cylinder around.

1. Distance

Through measuring the tables and our bodies, we investigated distance using meter tapes. The standard units of measurement for distance include the meter, the centimeter, and the kilometer. In distance, we look at how long something is (length) and how wide something is (width). Knowing the size of something is important in shopping for clothes, decorating a room, sports, and traveling from one place to another.

1 meter (m) = 100centimeters (cm) = 1000millimeters (mm)

1 kilometer = 1000 meters

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1 centimeter is about the length of a fingernail. There are 100 centimeters in 1 meter.

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1 millimeter is the width of a coin's edge. There are 10 millimeters in 1 centimeter.

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A meter is about the length from the floor to the windowsill. There are 1000 meters in 1 kilometer.

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A kilometer is 2 and a half times around the track.

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Diameter is the longest distance between two points on a shape. In the case of a circle, the diameter is a straight line passing through the middle. The circumference is the distance around the circle.

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2. Mass

Mass is how much stuff is in something. To know the mass of an object, we weigh it using a balance. Mass is important in cooking, traveling, building, and in health.

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In our weighing investigations, each small blue cube we used for measuring equaled one gram (g). One thousand (1,000) grams equals one kilogram (kg). The gram is the standard unit for measuring mass.

  • 1 gram (g) = 1000 milligrams (mg)

  • 1000 grams (g) = 1 kilogram (kg)


A packet of sugar is 1g.

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A coin equals about 5g.

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An apple has the mass of about 150g.

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An eight year old child weighs about 25kg and has a height of about 115cm.

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3. Volume

Using a graduated cylinder and a syringe, we measured the volume (how much space a liquid takes up) of water in cups and soda cans. We also measured the capacity (how much liquid fits when a container is filled completely) of many different containers. Volume is important in measuring liquids for a cooking recipe, knowing how much water to bring on a camping trip, in boat capacity, and in air travel.

graduated cylinder

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The standard units for volume are the liter (l), used for bigger volumes, and the milliliter (ml) for smaller volumes. We measured many containers using the milliliter.

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A soda can has a volume of 355ml of soda, but a capacity of 370ml.

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A travel shampoo container has less than 100ml for carry-on luggage. Notice the 89ml on the right bottom of the bottle.

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4. Temperature

The standard unit for measuring temperature is the Celsius (°C). Temperature is important in knowing what to wear in the mornings, in cooking recipes, in heating our homes, and in knowing whether or not we have a fever.

We measure temperature using a thermometer, as you can see in the image.

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O °C is the point at which water freezes.

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25 °C is approximately the room temperature in school.

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37.0 °C is the normal body temperature of a person or the temperature on a hot summer day.

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100 °C is the temperature at which water boils.

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In our temperature investigation, we graphed the temperature of water as it cooled down with ice over time.

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1. PBS Kids video on measurement: Sid the Science Kid

2. Video on history of standard measurement systems: Metric and Standard Measurement Systems

3. Measurement Unit Summary

Practice at Home


  • Estimate, then write down the length of objects that are: 1mm, 1cm, 1m


  • Using a measuring cup, measure the capacity of your favorite mug (how much liquid fits) in milliliters, then measure the volume of liquid when the mug is half-full.


  • Write down the number of grams of your favorite cereal (written on the box).


  • In Celsius, measure the air temperature inside your house, then the temperature outside.

Concluding Question

Why is it important to measure things (like length, volume, mass, and temperature)? Give examples.